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Published: 23 January 2020

By Mike Hitch

The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) has called on the Queensland State Government to further restrict the harmful practice of conversion therapy by including non-regulated professionals such as those claiming to be counsellors or religious advisers in the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019.

AASW Queensland Branch President, Ellen Beaumont said in a press release that while the proposal to legislate against ‘conversion therapy’ was a step forward by the Queensland Government, the failure to include non-regulated professionals could see the continuation of the harmful practice which aims to turn LGBTQI+ people straight.

“We welcome the intent of the proposed Bill, but it fails to ensure that non-regulated professionals who engage in conversion therapy are held to the same account and are open to the same penalties as health service providers. It also further highlights the necessity of social work registration as a profession,” she said.

“Our state’s legislative safeguards simply must cover the breadth of services and organisations that may engage in this practice, including religious and spiritual advisers.

“We need to recognise that whether the person is a health service provider or not, conversion therapy offered by any ‘professional’ or person in a position of power has the risk of causing significant harm and breaches vulnerable peoples human rights.”

Conversion therapy is far more likely to be performed by a non-professional than by a professional according to the AASW, however, vulnerable and desperate people may not be able to tell the difference.

The state of Queensland announced its ban on gay conversion therapy in November last year when the Health and Other Legislation Amendments Bill (No. 2) 2019, was introduced to State Parliament.

Practitioners of the discredited therapy face fines and up to 12 months’ imprisonment, while those who perform conversion therapy on children and other vulnerable people will face up to 18 months in jail.

Queensland Health Minister, Steven Miles, made clear that conversion therapy was not only redundant, but also damaging to the mental and physical health of many Queenslanders.

“Practices that try to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity have always been immoral and unethical—now they will be illegal,” he said.

“I strongly oppose any suggestion that being LGBTIQ is a disorder that requires medical treatment.

“This is an appalling practice that has no place in modern society, let alone Queensland’s health system.

“It does nothing but cause harm and devastation to vulnerable members of the community who need and deserve our support and respect,” he said.

While the initial ban is a start, the AASW has also called for the Bill to reflect more affirming terminology and to expand on definitions of ‘gender identity’, ‘gender expression’, ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘sex’.

“This is a significant piece of legislation that limits the threat of vulnerable people being subjected to a knowingly harmful practice. But there’s still more opportunity for the Bill to better ensure our state policies reflect inclusive and contemporary terminology and provides a greater breadth of safeguards beyond health service providers.”

Original article appeared in the Star Observer

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers